Why it’s not only okay, but necessary to show vulnerability as a CEO

We scribe on all things HR to add value to your organisation

by | Nov 30, 2020

At Red Wagon Workplace Solutions, we believe it takes a strong leader to show vulnerability and humility to their team. To lead by example, human to human.

The strength of an aligned, cohesive company is both powerful and potent. A CEO, as the pivotal point in any company, sets the tone, values and ability for the team to succeed. Alongside the leadership team, their approach affects how teams address challenges, engage in dialogue, and understand the strategic journey. For a host of reasons, CEO’s and those in other leadership positions can find it a challenge to reveal their vulnerability, under the assumption that they should know it all, and be everything to everyone. A perception exists that it’s ‘weak’ to show vulnerability, that the leader should remain steadfastly strong, when in fact weakness can be a future-thinking CEO’s greatest strength. Being vulnerable means admitting to your fears, exposing what you don’t know, and disclosing your shortcomings. It means quickly becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable – possible stakeholder criticism or unrest internally for example. Vulnerability can mean owning up to mistakes – like the Apple Chief, Tim Cook, who is well known for not being shy about his weaknesses. It certainly hasn’t done Apple any harm.

Constant learning and growth are critical to the success of any leader. It’s said that great things happen outside of a comfort zone, and let’s be honest, being vulnerable isn’t always ‘comfortable’. It’s sometimes unpleasant, yet within the elusive trait of vulnerability is often where the magic happens.

Any successful business is built on relationships and in truly taking the team on the strategic journey. Authenticity and vulnerability in relationships can be characterised in many ways – simply asking your leadership team for advice suggests that you don’t ‘know it all’ but rather respect the experience of your colleagues. Asking after a colleague’s children displays vulnerability and humanises you to your team. Telling the war stories, as well as speaking of achievements, builds trust and each genuine interaction which shows the leader’s authenticity, contributes to a mindset shift amongst the team. A powerful banding together of no ‘I’ in ‘team’, a building of mutual trust, creating a cultural dynamic unattainable with just ability alone. The simple fact is that one person cannot run a company alone, and embracing the fear of being vulnerable, allows access to a powerful tool of social influence to collectively run a successful business.

This notion of social influence is critical in being relatable and human, whilst also serving to break down the common divide between leadership teams and employees – the ‘them and us’ syndrome. Feeling part of one team fosters an open environment, more collaborative conversations, and decisions leading to less conflict and higher engagement. With 36% of companies citing engagement as a top challenge and highly engaged business teams resulting in 21% greater profitability (Gallup report), the statistics speak loud and clear for themselves.

The flow-on effect from vulnerability in a leader allows teams to thrive, succeed, and in turn, enables the company to succeed. A corporate culture which not only allows vulnerability, but proactively encourages it, helps foster an organically grown safety net from a compliance and safety perspective, as well as an engagement perspective. A culture where it’s okay to make mistakes, to report a compliance issue or record fraud without fear of reprisals – where it’s displayed from the top down that it’s safe to be vulnerable, that there are no barriers to leadership, is a healthy culture set up to grow and thrive. In our modern digital age, being vulnerable and authentic as a leader is no longer a choice. It’s a show of strength, of humility, and of a great leader.

To make the magic happen, book in a free consult with Susan at Red Wagon Workplace Solutions.

For guidance in how to strengthen the leadership qualities of your team, call or message Susan at Red Wagon Workplace Solutions for an initial consult.

About the author

As President and South Australian State Councillor of the Australian HR Institute (AHRI), Susan is a valued advisor and thought leader to her clients and the HR community. Maintaining an extensive understanding of employment law and business acumen through her work and connectivity to the AHRI and the business community, Susan is a master at finding innovative people orientated solutions, carefully balanced with the commercial reality.


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